The Alabama offense was piling up the yards against Florida Saturday, but on the other hand Crimson Tide offensive players kept giving the Gators easy opportunities, losing three fumbles -- one that was run back for a touchdown and one that set up a TD -- and an interception that led to a touchdown.
In the end, though, justice was served as Alabama overcame its generosity with a voracious offense that gobbled up 645 yards and provided a convincing 42-21 victory in the first Southeastern Conference game of the year for Bama. The Tide, ranked second in the nation in one poll and third in another, is now 4-0 overall. Florida fell to 2-1, 1-1 in SEC play.
Alabama built its offensive numbers in part with two spectacular scoring plays, an 87-yard pass from Blake Sims to Kenyan Drake on the first Tide offensive play and a 79-yard Sims to Amari Cooper as the junior wide receiver set the Alabama record for career touchdown receptions, snagging three on the day against the Gators. Jalston Fowler also had a touchdown reception, and Derrick Henry a TD run.
Florida’s three touchdowns came on total offense of 47 yards plus 49 yards on a fumble return. The offensive “drives” were 31 yards after a fumble recovery and 16 yards after an interception.
Alabama dominated statistically. The Tide had 28 first downs to 11 for Florida. Bama rushed 52 times for 196 yards, the Gators 27 times for 107. Tide quarterbacks completed 24 of 35 passes for 449 yards with one interception, while Jeff Driskel was good on 9-28 for 93 yards with one touchdown and two interceptions. Driskel was also the leading rusher for the Gators with 11 carries for 59 yards and a touchdown.
Alabama fumbled three times and lost all three, while the Gators lost their only fumble. Bama was penalized 11 times for 80 yards and Florida 5-36.
Alabama nearly doubled time of possession, 39:16 to 20:44, in great part because the Tide was much better on third down. Bama converted 12 of 16 on third down plays, Florida 2-13.
Blake Sims completed 23-33 passes for 445 yards and four touchdowns. Jake Coker was 1-2 for 4 yards and 1 touchdown.
Cooper caught 10 passes for 201 yards and three touchdowns. DeAndrew White returned to action with six catches for 48 yards.
And tight end O.J. Howard had his first receptions of the year, two catches for 22 yards.
Henry led the Bama rushing attack with 20 carries for 111 yards and one touchdown. T.J. Yeldon had 8 runs for 59 yards.
Defensively, linebacker Reggie Ragland was in on eight tackles and linebacker Trey DePriest was in on seven, including one for a loss. End Jarran Reed had five tackles, a tackle for loss, and broke up a pass behind the line of scrimmage. Safety Landon Collins had five tackle, broke up two passes, and had an interception that led to an Alabama touchdown.
Alabama could hardly have started the game in more dramatic fashion. After forcing a Florida punt, Bama started the game with Drake rather than T.J. Yeldon or Derrick Henry, and had Drake as a split receiver and Sims in an empty backfield. From the Tide 13, Drake streaked straight down field through the Florida zone defense and caught Sims’s pass in stride about the Gators 35 and raced to the end zone with no Florida defender close. Adam Griffith kicked the first of his extra points for the 7-0 lead on the 12-second play. The game was only a minute and 13 seconds old.
Drake may have had visions of SEC Offensive Player of the Week, or somesuch, as he fought the fight a little too long on a right end run on Bama’s second possession. Drake gained nine yards, but lost the football. The fumble was recovered by the Gators at the Bama 31.
The defense held for a couple of plays, but an obvious busted assignment in the secondary allowed wide receiver Valdez Showers to run wide open and take the pass from Jeff Driskel for a 28-yard touchdown. Frankie Velez’s PAT tied the game at the 11:26 mark. Although it took a lot longer than the Bama drive, the short march had lasted only 43 seconds.
Alabama generosity was just beginning, however. A pass to DeAndrew White resulted in the worst of turnovers. White had the ball stripped by Gators defensive back Keanu Neal, who picked up the loose ball at the 42 and raced to the end zone. With 9:24 remaining in the first quarter, the Gators had a 14-7 lead.
Alabama made a long drive into Florida territory, but the Tide stalled and tried a 45-yard field goal by Griffith, which was wide left.
The Bama defense forced a three-and-out with Florida punting the Tide to its 21.
The Gators were back in zone defense and this time Cooper split the middle with no Florida defender remotely close. He took Sims pass at the 32 and coasted to the end zone, tying the score at 14 with 4:12 left in the first quarter. The 79-yard play took 11 seconds.
Alabama got its first interception of the year late in the first quarter when Jabriel Washington picked off a Driskel pass at the Bama 13.
It was a day of firsts as a few moments later, early in the second quarter, tight end O.J. Howard had his first reception of the year, a gain of 12 into Florida territory.
Unfortunately, Bama was still in a giving mood. Either a fake handoff to Drake or a botched handoff to Drake resulted in a Sims fumble that the Gators managed to scoop down to the Tide 35.
The Alabama defense held and after an exchange of punts, the Tide got a gift from the Gators. Reggie Ragland recovered an unforced, handoff fumble at the Alabama 44.
Florida also helped the Tide cause with a personal foul penalty to the Florida 32. Sims hit Jalston Fowler on a swing pass that went for a 19-yard gain to the Florida 8. After a false start, Henry ran 11 yards to the two. Sims then passed to Fowler in th end zone for a 21-14 lead with 7:19 left in the quarter.
That was the halftime margin, and with Bama receiving the second half kickoff it seemed an opportune time to make it a comfortable game. That wasn’t to be.
Alabama continued its charitable attitude, giving up its first possession of the second half with a tipped pass (by Florida’s Nieron Ball) interception (by Antonio Morrison) that set the Gators up at Bama’s 16.
It took just two plays, the second a 14-yard quarterback draw by Driscol and just over two minutes into the second half the scored was tied at 21-21.
The rest, though, would belong to Alabama.
The Tide started it with a 16-play, 66-yard drive that consumed over seven minutes. Bama had to overcome a couple of penalties that added 20 yards to the task. Yeldon worked a few plays at wildcat and picked up picked up a couple of third down conversions. Sims passed to DeAndrew White for 12 yards on a third-and-12. Sims also had a sneak for a first down on third-and-one.
On a third-and-eight from the 17, Sims hit Cooper for what appeared to be a touchdown, but an offensive interference call wiped it out. On the next play, third-and-23 from the 32, Sims hit Henry on a screen pass for 29 yards to the three. And from there Henry took it in for a touchdown the the lead for good, 28-21, with just over five minutes left in the third quarter.
There was bad news and good news on Alabama’s next possession. Sims scrambled for a 24-yard gain at the 44, but had to leave the game when he was injured on the play. Jake Coker took over and finished a nice touchdown drive.
Mostly Coker made nice handoffs. Henry went at left end for back-to-back gains, 25 yards and 13 yards. Yeldon went up th middle for 10 and a first-and-goal at the eight. On third down, Coker threw it up for Cooper in the end zone and he had it for a touchdown that made it 35-21.
It was Cooper’s 19th career touchdown reception at Alabama, which is the Tide record. He would extend it later in the game.
Early in the fourth quarter, Landon Collins made a nice interception and return (12 yards), giving the ball to Alabama at its 40. That piece of good news was followed by the even better news that Sims was returning to the lineup after receiving brief locker room treatment for a bruised shoulder.
A swing pass to Yeldon gained 37 yards to the Florida 23 and he followed that up with a 10-yard run to the 13. On third-and-goal from the six, Sims lofted a pass to Cooper, who improved his touchdown reception record to 20 and Alabama’s lead to the final score of 42-21.
Alabama had one last potential scoring drive, but there was no immediacy to pile on points and the goal-to-go march ended on downs.